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'Deutschland 86' – historical TV drama doesn't have to be sexy, but it helps

What can a young, floppy-haired, shirtless spy teach Lucy Sweet about East German history? Quite a lot actually

It’s amazing how good-looking actors can make you suddenly interested in stuff. When I was about 13, I recall Paul McGann in The Monocled Mutineer sparking an intense and short-lived interest in the First World War. Then there were several period dramas featuring young men with cheekbones and floppy hair which made me read EM Forster instead of Just Seventeen. I’m telling you, being incredibly shallow and superficial really broadens the mind.

Which brings me nicely to the historical escapade that is Deutschland 86 (All 4), part two of a stylish trilogy that rattles through the Cold War years like a runaway U-Bahn train full of Berliners with cool Human League side partings. I don’t recall feeling very strongly about East Germany at the time, as I was too busy going to the school disco wearing fuchsia leggings, a Top Shop fuchsia shirt, white socks, black stilettos and Volkswagen clip-on earrings. (Wonder why nobody asked me to dance, spoke to me or stood within a 10ft radius of me?)

Now though, I can’t get enough of those beige and concrete Soviet-era GDR vibes. This is mostly due to the main character, Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay), a slightly reluctant yet super-skilled junior spy who runs around a lot with his shirt off and has eyes like a puppy pleading for an extra helping of Iams. Did I mention he can also play the piano?

But deeply inappropriate telly crushes aside, Deutschland 86 is an exercise in fantastically energetic and ambitious writing – its creators Anna and Joerg Winger are having lots of fun plundering history, and their enthusiasm is highly infectious. Three years ago, Deutschland 83 was a surprise hit both in the UK and America, and now they’ve got the budget to really let fly.

It’s probably the only show on TV right now that makes you want to google Erich Honecker

They swoop between arms deals in Angola, Bedouin outposts in Libya, terrorist attacks in West Berlin nightclubs and Big Pharma corruption at the height of the Aids epidemic. As well as all this, there are characters to die for, including Martin’s shoulder-padded aunt Lenora (Maria Schrader) who smokes endless cigarettes and has amazing hair, badass ANC freedom fighter Rose (Florence Kasumba) and his father Walter Schweppenstette (Sylvester Groth), a senior government official whose big idea is to launch a chartered socialist cruise ship and fill it with smuggled arms – inspired by his illegal love of the West German version of The Love Boat.

The show is at its best when it takes the piss out of the GDR’s out-of-touch, budget-conscious madness, but there’s so much to enjoy. It looks great, it takes risks, and it’s probably the only show on TV right now that makes you want to google Erich Honecker.

Every day’s a school day, and you get hot spies and thrills to boot. By the end of this, I’m practically going to be a historian.

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